The rebooted Star Trek universe has been something of a mixed bag. 2009’s Star Trek was a delightful sci-fi romp, whereas its 2013 sequel Into Darkness was somewhat underwhelming in comparison. Things weren’t looking good when the first trailer for Beyond dropped in late 2015 – it appeared heavily influenced by Guardians of the Galaxy, losing what made earlier entries so special. This isn’t strictly the outcome with Beyond, but it is still a somewhat underwhelming entry in the sci-fi saga.
Beyond picks up as the crew of the USS Enterprise, led by Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) are three years into their space exploration mission. Ambushed by forces under Krall (Idris Elba), the crew find themselves stranded on Altamid. Separated, alliances are formed with planet-dweller Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), and the crew reunite to stop Krall as he attacks the Starfleet base at the space station Yorktown.
The crucial element that has permeated the new Star Trek films is the chemistry between its leads, and Beyond manages to retain this – but not entirely. The plot forces many characters to be separated for large stretches, meaning some of the best character dynamics – such as that between Kirk and Zachary Quinto’s Spock – are lost. That said, other relationships are explored that hadn’t been explored before, notably with Spock and Bones (Karl Urban), but this proves dissatisfying in comparison to the electric chemistry between other crucial cast members. The charm of the characters is still here, but it feels somewhat restricted, which is a shame.
This is not to say performances aren’t as good as before. Chris Pine is endlessly watchable as Kirk, striking the perfect balance between humour and gravitas, and Simon Pegg and Doug Jung’s script gives him an interesting arc to pursue over the film, that pays off by the end. Sofia Boutella proves particularly impressive as alien Jaylah, providing not only a great physical performance, with some enthralling action scenes, but slotting in nicely with the pre-existing cast (her interactions with Pegg’s Scotty are of particular note).
As I’ve said, there’s a few really great performances, and I wouldn’t say there’s a necessarily bad performance in here, but the underdeveloped script means a lot of characters simply aren’t given enough to do to fully show off their acting chops. One such case that springs to mind is Zoe Saldana’s Uhura. In the past two films, she’s been strong, independent and very witty, but here she simply isn’t able to deliver such a layered performance – she still fulfils this role, having an interesting dynamic with Krall, but is far less prevalent than in the previous two entries. Her arc with Spock is weak and glossed over, barely being touched upon until the film begins wrapping up. This is a massive shame, and is unfortunately also the case for others, including the late Anton Yelchin’s Chekov and John Cho’s Sulu. Despite this, all the main players deliver solid turns – performances are not an issue at all here.
The shallow script particularly affects the film’s antagonist, Idris Elba’s Krall. His performance is fine, but once again he’s not got enough meat to chew on. Krall comes across as a very much generic villain, and although the background of his character is rather interesting, it’s revealed far too late into the film for us to form any kind of attachment to him.
All of the film’s problems boil down to a weak script: Simon Pegg, who was tasked with rewriting the film in 2015, has said that the approach was to “make a western or a thriller or a heist movie, then populate that with Star Trek characters”, and you can certainly tell – this doesn’t feel like it was written to be a Star Trek film first and foremost, as a lot of the characters we’ve grown attached to are neglected and underwritten – but admittedly authentically portrayed.
This isn’t to say the film doesn’t have merit: it’s certainly an improvement on 2013’s Into Darkness, which felt overly melodramatic and predictable – this is a lot more fun. It’s refreshing to see these characters in a new setting, and the film is more bold in introducing alien elements than the previous two have been. Justin Lin’s direction is less noticeable than J.J. Abrams’ was, but he handles the task well, and takes the franchise in an interesting direction. The constituent elements of a great Star Trek film are here: terrific cast, interesting worlds to explore and a unique plot, but too many rewrites have rendered many of these elements too underdeveloped to be successful.
While you’re sat watching Star Trek Beyond, you’ll have great fun. I can’t stress this enough: there’s some brilliant performances, great comedy, gripping action scenes and a rollicking last 30 minutes, but it’s when you look back on it after that the cracks begin to show. The film can’t handle all the characters in its cast, meaning some of our favourites are overlooked in favour of developing new characters – some of which aren’t explored enough to grow attached to. Beyond brings back the fun of 2009’s Star Trek, but loses the character balance and overall depth that helped make Into Darkness a strong entry. If you come into this looking for an action romp, you’ll have a wonderful time, but if you’re here for the characters and a deep plot, expect a tinge of disappointment.